On Sunday, New York Times reviewer Rachel Shteir reviewed three Chicago based books. But the reviews were less about the books in question and more about Chicago itself.
In her review, Shteir – who is also a professor at DePaul University and moved to Chicago thirteen years ago – talked about “poor Chicago” and used every stereotypical crack associated with the Windy City using very tired cliches (“Chicago is not Detroit…yet.” Oh wow, how many times I’ve heard that line?) And of course, what stereotypical slam piece about Chicago isn’t complete without mentioning the Cubs’ 100+ years of futility (never mind she failed to mention the numerous titles the Bulls won in the ’90’s and the White Sox and Blackhawks’ most recent championships.)
Negative reaction to Shteir’s article was a bit muted at first, but blew up Monday night when in a rare move, WMAQ-TV political editor Carol Marin gave a rebuttal to Shteir during the station’s 10 p.m. newscast. During WFLD-TV’s 9 p.m. newscast, anchors Bob Sirott and Robin Robinson expressed similar dismay.
The story picked up more steam Tuesday on social media and even more so when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touched upon it briefly during a press conference, also expressing his dismay. Knowing how to capitalize on her sudden fifteen minutes of fame, Shteir started a mini-media tour Tuesday, doing interviews with Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune and appearing on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, obviously tripling down on her comments.
So what to make of all this?
For starters, Shteir’s New York Times piece comes off as incredibly amateurish – she sounds like a heelish professional wrestler bashing a city in order to get cheap heat. Sorry lady, your John Cena imitation doesn’t fly. In one of her reviews, she has the nerve to criticize two Tribune reporters about leaning on cliches when her piece is full of them about Chicago. After reading her “review”, I’m thinking Shteir is more suited writing episodes of 2 Broke Girls and The Cleveland Show than book reviews of The New York Times. I’m surprised she didn’t mention Chicago embarrassments such as Jim Belushi, Jenny McCarthy, and Mancow. For good measure, she could’ve thrown in the 1957 movie Beginning Of The End when giant grasshoppers invaded Chicago and climbed up postcards of The Wrigley Building. Obviously, Jay Mariotti has been giving her a few pointers.
But her review brings up a bigger issue – the perceived notion the mainstream media is out to get Chicago. For the last few years, Chicago’s image has taken a national and international beating thanks to a high murder rate, constant corruption, racial segregation, and more. While much of the scrutiny is deserved, the negative portrayal of Chicago is way over-the top – especially from the national media outlets – who happen to be based in New York. Yes, Chicago isn’t really a model city when it comes to anything, but come on!
“After reading her “review”, I’m thinking Shteir is more suited writing episodes of 2 Broke Girls and The Cleveland Show than book reviews of The New York Times.”
Members of the East Coast Media elite like Shteir portray Chicago as having a monopoly on gang violence, crime, and corruption – where as in reality, cities like Baltimore, St. Louis, and Memphis have a higher crime rate and just about as much corruption – but you’ll never hear their struggles on the network evening newscasts or on cable “news” networks. No other city – including Shteir’s beloved New York – gets the harsh and unfair treatment on this planet than Chicago from a ruthless, uncaring, and very biased press – they go out of their way to showcase to embarrass Chicago due to their extreme hatred of the Windy City. I explained Chicago’s image issues in several Think Tank pieces over the years, especially Bashing the South Side in 2008.
All of this is just more proof journalism’s spiraling decline, now in the hands of greedy media conglomerates. They serve up tabloid-like reporting so they can stroke their own egos and boost their ratings – and has only gotten worse in the era of media consolidation, which no one cares about anymore. This came in a head after the Boston bombings last week as Tim Goodman rightfully pointed out in his recent Bastard Machine column – news executives don’t give a shit about what the public thinks about them – the very same public who gives them their precious ratings.
Now I know what your thinking… yes, I’ve called Chicago media a joke, an embarrassment, a freak show, corrupt, etc. during the seven years this site has been in operation (I’ve even used these stupid cliches myself.) In fact, yours truly has been more critical of Chicago media than he probably should be. But despite the criticism from me and others, those in local media work very hard to put out the best product possible, whether it be a local newscast, an investigative report, or an entertaining radio show – WGN-TV’s morning newscasts and WTMX’s Eric & Kathy are great examples. While writing about Chicago media is never dull (but exacerbating at times), thank God we don’t have reality shows featuring “Real Housewives” running off at the mouth (Hello, Atlanta!) or swearing news anchors (yo, Bismarck!)
And get this – Chicago has one of the richest histories of any city when it comes to television and radio. This is a place Irna Phillips created soap operas, then a groundbreaking concept. Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey honed their talk show skills here and became national legends. Bozo’s Circus and Ray Rayner and Friends entertained generations of children. Remember Kukla, Fran, and Ollie? Born right here in Chicago. And the Windy City was home to radio legend Paul Harvey, and his wife Lynne. And another “Harvey” has set up shop in Chicago: Steve Harvey picked Chicago as home of his nationally syndicated television show. Of course Shteir failed to mention any of this in her “review”. When her fifteen minutes are up, this hack of a writer will go back to obscurity and this will be forgotten, much like her writing career.
One interesting note here: at the end of Rachel Shtier’s interview on Chicago Tonight Tuesday, the show outroed with Frank Sintara’s My Kind Of Town.
A more appropriate tune would’ve been Mya’s Somebody Please Come Get This B***h.